Leaves and Lemon Rinds (Part 1 of Wayside)

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Chapter 36

~

Is there really a difference between flying and falling? Though I have never flown, I would imagine that it feels the same. The weightlessness, I mean. I looked up for a moment, and the last thing I remember seeing was a flash in the night sky.

For a moment, I was everywhere and nowhere. There was a weightlessness and peace. Like every bit of me was spread across the nothing. Then I realized that I was there. There was a me, and all at once, I opened my eyes. First, there was light. Then there was the color.

The blue of the sky was so pale that I felt like I was in a different world.

I heard a rush of sound. Birds around me. The rushing of water. It all happened at once.

Then I felt it.

Pain.

I closed my eyes.

I thought I had blinked, but when I opened my eyes, there was nothing but darkness.

Una, are you there? I asked, calling to her.

Yes.

I felt pain take over my body as my bones began to crack as my body bent and twisted under the moonlight. Yet, under the eye of the moon and the witnesses amongst the trees, my body bore Una.

A white fleece replaced my tawny skin and paws pressed against the earth.

She let the water cleanse her coat, then left the river behind.

The night air built a force in my lungs that I had long since forgotten. I let my spirit lead me into perfect abandon. After years bound inside of me, I set her free.

My body needed time to heal.

It might have been days, maybe weeks, before I realized that Una wouldn’t stop running. She took us to a place where the soil held colors I hadn’t seen before. The earth was paler.

That’s how I knew I was further than I had ever been before. That’s the last thing I remember. The soil. The feeling of freedom.

~

Maeve?

I called out in my mind.

Breath hung still before me.

Cold.

There is life, and there is life, and there is life.

Hunger.

It calls to me, and I am only a void that only I can fill.

Blood.

It flows from them and into me. From them and into me. It gives me life.

Silence.

All there are leaves. They fall beneath and crunch.

Alone.

I feel an emptiness inside. Where are you? Where?

Maeve?

I called out in my mind.

~

Una? I called back.

Maeve, she whispered back.

Her voice had changed; it sounded sullen and strange. I found myself having to make room in her mind. Her mind was disordered and wild. I could only feel. Her language was broken and sparse.

Where are we? Where are you taking us?

She couldn’t respond, not because she didn’t want to but because words were just so foreign to her. It was like we were relearning each other and making room for one another.

She took me to an opening. The scents in the air felt familiar. She had been here before. A small person was in the middle of the field. It looked as though they were waiting for something. As Una neared, I saw the girl had something in her hands.

The little girl had a raw steak in her hands.

She had been waiting for Una, I realized.

The little girl tossed the meat, and Una jumped at it. She happily munched away at her treat. The girl looked familiar somehow, but it was probably just remnants of familiarity that Una was feeling.

“I waited for you earlier. Where have you been?” She scolded. Una looked up at her, our eyes locked, and the girl looked shocked. “You’re not alone anymore, are you?” she whispered.

Can she see me? I thought.

“Yes,” she said, “I can hear you, and I can see you.”

Una jumped and backpedaled.

“Wait!” she said. “Please, don’t go.”

Who are you? Where am I? What happened to me? I projected my questions as best as I could to her.

“I’m Kara. We are in Phelbrook. I don’t know what happened to you,” she said quickly.

Kara? This girl was probably what? 7?

“I’m almost 9!” She said, correcting my thoughts. Her bright blue eyes lit with hurt, and she crossed her arms, letting her blond curls cover her face.

How long have you been giving Una steaks?

“Una? Her name is Una?” She asked, and Una quirked her head. “She has been coming here almost every day this summer.”

Thank goodness, I thought a little relieved. I must’ve only been out for a summer. Is there a town nearby? Or a house? Where are your parents?

“My parents are at home. I go to the school up on the hill. Do you want to come back with me?”

Not now. Can you come back tomorrow with clothes? I asked, projecting my thoughts to her.

“Yes, I can come back tomorrow. But you have to come earlier. I don’t want to get in trouble,” Kara said as she turned to leave.

Una led us out of the clearing and into the woods. I tried to shift into myself, but I couldn’t. She felt my unease. I understood how she must’ve felt trapped within me all of those years.

I mentally took a breath and let her guide us to a safe place where she could rest. She led me underneath the roots of a tree. We were hidden and safe.

As she slept, I was able to walk through her dreams.

I saw a world, unlike anything I had ever seen. I couldn’t tell if these were her memories, but they felt so real. There were these women who were tending to Una, and there were other wolves like her.

All at once, it seemed as though everyone had gone to sleep. Even the wolves around us fell into a slumber. Una fought to stay awake, but her eyelids were getting heavy.

As she blinked, I saw a brightness, and in the sharp light I saw form begin to appear.

In the dream, Una felt hands upon her. She fought blindly. A feeling all too familiar to me came over her. Weightlessness.

She was falling.

How did I know this feeling? Falling? I remember falling somewhere. Where?

I couldn’t remember.

We awoke with a start.

There was only a sliver of light in the sky, but I could hear Kara. She was calling for Una, and we ran to her.

“Here,” she urgently said as she placed the clothes before us. “Hurry!”

I can’t change into myself, I tried to explain. I-

“I need your help! Please!” She cried.

Kara, calm down. Everything is going to be okay. I just can’t change right now.

“CHANGE!” She yelled as she grabbed hold of Una’s fur.

Una fell to the floor. Her body began to contort, and I could feel my flesh emerging from her skin. I grabbed the oversized dress she had placed in front of me, and I pulled it on myself. In one swoop, I moved her behind me.

I sniffed the air around me and heard a rustle nearby. We were not alone. I looked down at Kara, and she was utterly petrified.

“Hello, little princess.”

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